The early-bird dinner lives on at Nick’s

 

The year: 1962. Sinatra is on the radio, meatloaf and rice pudding on the menu. And a storefront diner named Nick’s Restaurant opens in Hallandale Beach.

The year: 2011. Harry Connick Jr. sings a Sinatra song on the radio. Meatloaf and rice pudding are on the menu. And Nick’s is still going.

Time for a time warp and an early-bird dinner. At Nick’s, there’s plenty of both. The tried and true takes center stage: a sprawling half-roast chicken atop a mound of stuffing; a slab of meatloaf with real mashed potatoes, a jumbo, sweet-sauced carrot and a choice of tomato juice, soup or salad and pudding or Jell-O.

This is what Grandma and Grandpa looked forward to once a week. But as the demographics get younger and more diverse in South Florida, the early-bird dinner is harder to find. Tonier restaurants may tout their “sunset” or “pre-theater” menus, but not Nick’s. The restaurant proudly serves a soup-to-nuts early bird from 4 to 6 p.m. every day.

There’s no beating a complete feast at a set — and cheap — price. Depending on the entree, stuffing your face will cost $7.95, $8.95 or $9.95. And all the favorites are here: franks and beans, grilled liver and onions, fish of the day, stuffed cabbage, fried popcorn shrimp, turkey stew and the must-have roast chicken and meatloaf.

The elders of our family enjoyed a warm flashback, and the teens lapped it up.. To them, it wasn’t so much retro as really good food — and lots of it.

Nick’s doesn’t overdo the gravy or the sauce. The chicken is just that, tender and meaty. The moist meatloaf is served naked, with thick brown gravy on the side. The rice pudding is so thick, a spoon stands upright. Even the bread is heavenly, with sesame seed crust and tender middle. The vast portions had us eating well into the next day.

Our only complaints: The chicken-noodle soup smelled of bacon (possibly from the navy bean and ham in the next pot), and the salad reeked of strong onions.

Tucked into a row of shops just east of the train tracks, Nick’s doesn’t try to be hip. The waitresses wear the traditional white uniform with black apron, and dish out the salad and soup as well as stuff the bags with plastic silverware and condiments. A kitchen hand even helped us out to the car.

Nick’s might have added gourmet coffee and fancy burgers to the menu, but it’s the early-bird dinner that brings us back.

Jeff Kleinman , jkleinman@MiamiHerald.com

If you go

Place: Nick’s Restaurant

Address: 105 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd., Hallandale Beach

Prices: Early-bird franks and beans, spaghetti and meatballs $7.95; liver and onions, meatloaf, beef tips, stuffed cabbage $8.95; tilapia, chopped steak, fried shrimp, turkey stew $9.95

Contact: 954-458-0363

Hours: 6 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

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